Ecological Footprint... how big is YOURS?
My Canada, June 2007, by Deanna
...how big is YOURS?
Have you ever walked along a beach? Just where the waves wash up on the shore? It’s wonderful at any time of day, but I think the best time is at sunset. Most of the people are gone by then and it’s peaceful. I love to feel the sand and water under my feet, the breeze on my skin, to listen to the waves, watch the birds and see the clouds and colours in the sky. Yes, walking along a beach a sunset is one of my very favourite things to do!
I always notice the footprints in the sand on the beach, too. You can turn around, look back and see where you’ve been because you’ve left footprints all along the way. Sooner or later though, the wind and the water will wash your footprints away, making the sand smooth and new again; erasing the traces of you having been there at all. Unfortunately that is not the way it is with Ecological Footprints.
You can’t wash away your Ecological Footprint by the waves and nature renewed or restored. In fact, they can’t even really be seen. Let me explain. Your Ecological Footprint (EF) is the measure of Earth space you use to maintain your lifestyle. In other words, your EF measures all the natural resources you use your everyday life; the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the home you live in, the energy you consume and the waste you produce are some of the many things that get included. Ecological Footprints measure the actual area of productive land that’s needed to provide resources and absorb waste and the units used are global hectares (ha). (1 hectare = 2.47 acres)
Everything we use or consume ultimately comes from nature. It’s harder to see that in these modern days than it was in the past, when people hunted for and grew their own food and made their own clothes, homes and tools from the materials they found in the natural environment around them. But it is still true. The material goods we use and consume daily come from the Earth’s natural resources. Often they are extracted, grown and produced in far away places, then transported to stores in our neighbourhoods where we buy them.
The energy we use also comes from the Earth’s natural resources. Whether it’s the electricity that powers your TV and computer, or the gas in your family’s cars, some kind of natural resource was used to create it. It’s usually non-renewable, polluting fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Or uranium, which powers our nuclear reactors, and then must be stored safely for hundreds of years because of it’s toxic radioactivity. Even the renewable energy sources like water, wind and solar come from nature.
Right now there are over 6.5 billion people living on the planet! If we divided up all the available land and resources equally, the Earth could sustain an average EF of about 1.8 ha per person. The problem is that the actual average EF size is about 2.2 ha per person. Overall, people are using more of the Earth’s space and resources than are actually available! And that’s only the average. Here in Canada our EF is about 7 ha. Out of all the countries in the world, we have about the 4th largest EF. If everyone in the world lived the same way we do as Canadians, we would need almost four Earths to meet our needs! We are using much more than our fair share, and that means other people in other places have much less than their fair share.
So, what can we do to help solve this problem? We can all try to reduce the size of our Ecological Footprints. There are many simple choices and actions you can make and take every day to reduce the size of your EF. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of material goods, resources, water and energy you consume will help. Reducing the amount of waste you produce will help too. I’m sure you have some ideas about actions you can take already, things like; turning off lights and electronic equipment when they’re not being used, not running the water while brushing your teeth, packing a litterless lunch with reusable containers, walking or riding a bike instead of getting a ride in a car and making sure to ‘REDUCE, reuse and recycle’.
There are a lot of excellent websites on the Internet with much more information and many more ideas on how you can become part of the solution. You can even find out the size of your own family’s EF, and then make a plan to reduce it. The David Suzuki Foundation’s website and its ‘Nature Challenge for Kids’ program has some great suggestions on what you can do. The Students/Teachers section of the Government of Canada’s Ministry of Natural Resources website has ideas, too.
I’m sure you could find out about lots more if you do a little searching and researching for yourself. Let me know what you come up with, so we can share information and ideas. Any steps you can take to reduce your EF, even if they’re small steps at first, will help. So remember, smaller is better when it comes to Ecological Footprints! Try to do more with less in your life and you will help to create a healthier world for us all.
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